• nociception;
  • orofacial;
  • retrograde tracing;
  • somatotopy


Recent evidence has been accumulated that not only spinal trigeminal nucleus caudalis (Sp5C) neurons but also spinal trigeminal nucleus oralis (Sp5O) neurons respond to noxious stimuli. It is unknown, however, whether Sp5O neurons project to supratrigeminal structures implicated in the sensory processing of orofacial nociceptive information. This study used retrograde tracing with Fluorogold in rats to investigate and compare the projections from the Sp5O and Sp5C to two major thalamic nuclei that relay ascending somatosensory information to the primary somatic sensory cortex: the ventroposteromedial thalamic nucleus (VPM) and the posterior thalamic nuclear group (Po). Results not only confirmed the existence of contralateral projections from the Sp5C to the VPM and Po, with retrogradely labelled neurons displaying a specific distribution in laminae I, III and V, they also showed consistent and similar numbers of retrogradely labelled cell bodies in the contralateral Sp5O. In addition, a topographic distribution of VPM projections from Sp5C and Sp5O was found: neurons in the dorsomedial parts of Sp5O and Sp5C projected to the medial VPM, neurons in the ventrolateral Sp5O and Sp5C projected to the lateral VPM, and neurons in intermediate parts of Sp5O and Sp5C projected to the intermediate VPM. All together, these data suggest that not only the Sp5C, but also the Sp5O relay somatosensory orofacial information from the brainstem to the thalamus. Furthermore, trigemino-VPM pathways conserve the somatotopic distribution of primary afferents found in each subnucleus. These results thus improve our understanding of trigeminal somatosensory processing and help to direct future electrophysiological investigations.